FICTION: THE RIGHT ROBOT


He was running out of time. It was imperative that he find the right robot… and soon.

In 2095 you might think this task should have been easy. However, for him it was not. There were certain characteristics that must be present for his choice to fulfil the tasks required of him. And yes, the robot was to be male. This was crucial. Male, very kind and gentle, full of the characteristics that he wished to bestow on the precious little human he must leave behind.

He had scoured the internet for the robot which would fulfil his needs. There were many that had several characteristics that were on his list, but the one with them all continued to elude him.

Then he made a breakthrough.

It was on a frosty, late autumn evening that Marc happened upon Harpy. Not that this was a meeting that had the initial appearances of being fateful in any positive sense. Harpy had simply fallen across his path, so to speak. He’d seen him a few times around the neighbourhood, slumped here, talking garrulously to someone there and often in the local shop spending any coins he’d gathered for a small bottle of cheap wine. Harpy was a hobo and as far as he could tell, homeless.

In these days there was little tolerance for men like Harpy. The basic income given to the 75% unemployed was deemed enough to pay for a place to stay, clothing, energy and food. Those like Harpy were bucking the system by refusing this help or refusing to use it wisely, and it bugged people.

He’d been deep in thought taking his nightly constitutional walk down by the narrow strip of parkland near his apartment when it happened. Suddenly, out of nowhere he was accosted by a flurry of apologies as the largely grey shape of Harpy appeared from his right and barged into him. After the initial shock from which he soon recovered he began to engage Harp in communication.

Are you okay was soon followed by can I help you in any way, which then morphed concernedly into have you some shelter around here where you can shelter? Harpy’s eyes were at first glazed as he attempted to discover who was addressing him. Then, upon finding their target they focused perfectly. He saw that his eyes were as grey as the dishevelled coat he was wearing… but he saw also that there was something intelligent emerging there beyond the gleam of aftereffects from his last bottle of wine. He made a quick decision, partly based on his need for some kind of change, almost anything after so little progress in finding what he sought lately. He invited Harpy home.

After a sobering bath Harpy sat on the sofa in front of the permaglow fire in one of Marc’s warmest dressing gowns.

It was then he began to tease Harpy’s story out of him.

The year of his exit from the “blessings” of modern society had been 2088. His work no longer pleased nor satisfied him. In fact, it downright disgusted him. At the end of his tether, he had simply walked out one summer’s day and had never returned. Since then he had become what earlier generations had called a recluse. A recluse with a penchant for fine wines. Harpy did have a place of shelter, an old abandoned garage ‘way over in a tiny sliver of land too small for the construction of anything profitable. It was a decaying artefact of a messier time hidden amidst unruly bushes and weeds where no one strayed these days. Walking had mostly gone out of fashion so it was a perfect place to hide away completely undisturbed.

Marc began to feel glad he had kept up his evening strolls despite Harpy being the only soul he’d ever “bumped into” during them for the last decade and a half. As he got more and more details from him Marc began to feel the beginnings of the notion that they were kindred spirits of a sort. Marc belonged to an older school too, one that found the new and ultra-clinical modern world lacking in myriad, often indefinable ways.

Harpy was not averse to telling his story but Marc noticed early on that this did not include discussions regarding his employment save that he hadn’t liked what he was doing in any shape or form. Lacking this information and having heard much of Harpy’s life outside of the world of work Marc began describing the abiding problem he had which had almost become an obsession now. Finding the right robot.

To this point Harpy had been content to lie back on the sofa, looking around the room with casual interest and looking like he was enjoying feeling right at home. On hearing of Marc’s problem however, he began leaning forward and focusing intently upon Marc in a way that was mildly off-putting.

Marc described the characteristics he was looking for in great detail. These facts had been in Marc’s waking and sleeping hours for a good six months and it felt good to get his thoughts out there even for this man he didn’t know from Adam.

Harpy’s eyes grew every more focused as Marc continued describing what he was looking for. Then why.

Marc had only a few more short months to live or so he was told. But this was not the primary focus of his thoughts. These were elsewhere, with the apple of his eye, his granddaughter Olivia. Olivia was ten delightful years old and loved her grandpa very much and showed her love for him in exuberant clarity every time they were together. It was for her Marc lived and for her, he searched. For the right robot.

It would have all the characteristics he hoped he displayed each time he and Olivia met. Though it could not possibly take his place at least it could create a semblance of his beingness, his voice and he hoped, the physical and facial resemblance to himself that he hoped would be a comfort to her. But more than that it should have the ability to teach the kindest attributes humans could aspire to. He felt this latter ability was as necessary as all others as in this cold modern world the best of humanity was a fading memory within a world now much more cutthroat than he had known in his own formative years.

Harpy now looked down at his hands as he perched on the edge of the sofa, lost in thought. Marc wondered at this reaction to his words and on Harpy lifting his gaze once again to him he was amazed to see tears in his eyes.

Eventually, he managed to let just a few words emerge from what was otherwise a quite grim, tight-lipped face.

“I… I can help you.”

Marc wondered how in heaven’s name such a man might be able to do anything at all to help him. But he was soon to find out.

Harpy left the next morning after spending the night in warmth on Marc’s sofa. Marc thought he’d seen the last of him then. But he was wrong.

The next day a note was slipped under Marc’s apartment door.

It was a list headed by the same words Harpy had uttered the night before.

Marc couldn’t believe his eyes. Almost everything on the list had the appearance of being highly technical with references in the margin opposite each item providing additional detail regarding quality, type and catalogue number.

At the foot were the names and addresses of outlets where Marc would most likely find the items listed.

It was hard for Marc to swallow that this had any kind of true relation to his problem… but luckily for him his intuition cast aside the doubts that had immediately arisen in his mind and he wasted no time in setting off for the nearest outlet named.

That night Marc’s home was an Alladin’s Cave of shiny metal, glistening cable, plastic sheets and aluminium coil. Only an hour or so after having arrived back at his place Harpy was at his door. On opening up, Marc couldn’t help the widening of his eyes as he saw what to him appeared to be a reborn Harpy before him. Dressed in clean, newly purchased overalls complete with pens in pocket and leather tool belt on his waist Harpy was clearly ready for business.

Marc woke from sleep several times that night to the sound of a hiss, a tap or two or what incredibly, sounded almost like voices. After the last of these interruptions, he finally fell fast asleep. As he woke he perceived the same total silence that usually greeted him. At that point, he almost believed that what he had heard through the night had only been the product of his dreams. But he was to find he was quite wrong on that score.

Gently opening his bedroom door and peeking outside toward the lounge down the hall he caught his first glance of shining metal reflecting the bright sunlight coming through his lounge windows. He tip-toed out into the hall and down to where he could look directly into the lounge. There he saw Harpy fast asleep on the sofa with what almost appeared to be a smile on his lips. Then, moving his gaze leftwards he stood stock still with a sharp intake of breath. For a moment he thought he was looking into his very own face.

The technology of plastic vitality had made it possible to imbue thin layers of a specially engineered plastic material with an image, moving or still. The WallScreen had taken the place of each wall covering and TV screen in a growing number of up-market homes. Any image used previously on wallpaper plus a near-infinite number of others, along with any display of TV/movie/computer/cell output could be displayed at any size on any defined space up to and including complete walls or in fact on ALL walls as required. The home was now capable of being monitor at all sizes from micro to macro, ceiling, floor and wall up to and including a full virtual surround experience. This technical advance could also be used to perfectly mimic the human face moulded precisely with exact contours on skinlike plastic surfaces.

This was why Marc found himself staring open-mouthed at what had begun to resemble another human being… him.

Harpy, or as Marc had found out, Harry, now began to wake from his slumbers.

“He’s just the beginning. Give me a week and he’ll be done, I promise.”

Marc was at a loss for words but managed an effusive thanks before too long. This was fortunate as it was crucial for Harry that Marc speak as much as possible in the week following and weeks to come so that as full an intonation and vocabulary memory could be constructed to make his metal and plastic brother resemble his speech output as closely as possible.

The days passed in rapid progression with the same pattern. Marc fell asleep happier than he had felt for many months before. He had growing confidence that what he had sought and had begun to believe could not become reality just might be possible.

On the seventh day, he woke to a light tap on his door. On calling out he’d be up soon he was amazed to hear a somehow familiar voice asked if he might like a cup of tea and perhaps some toast delivered on a tray to his bedside. Marc delivered a shaky yes please in response after the initial confusion caused by this bizarre and wholly unexpected question.

Minutes later he found himself looking into the face he had become used to seeing each morning this week as he rose… but now it was atop a full-body exactly matching his present shape, weight and outline on legs that moved it to his bedside complete with a laden tray.

“Take your time now, we have all the time in the world and a whole world to explore.”

Marc knew these were words Olivia would hear as they were typical of his own which sought to bring calm to her world in the midst of a world that needed protector grandpas like him. He knew now that his intent to protect that which was most precious to him would now succeed and continue to succeed long after he was gone.

His joy was so great he rushed past his double into the lounge to express his thanks to Harry, to Harpy. But he was nowhere to be seen. All that remained of him was a note with a sentence composed of only ten words.

Please, give her a kiss on the cheek for me,

Harry

Marc would. And kissed Harry’s note too, each and every day until the day he died.

Together they had achieved what had seemed impossible, the birth of the right robot.

The Right Robot Company as you will be aware has revolutionized the robotics industry worldwide making all previous models redundant. The humanity of its robots could not be matched by any earlier development standard and has been instrumental in creating the new global ambience we all now know and love. The gentleness of their programming features and ability to teach an entire generation to learn much and love a lot has had an incalculable effect on all of us. And for this, we thank Harry and thank too, the first two Marcs who began this genesis of an entirely new era.



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